By Greg Cairnduff, Director,The Australian International School of Bangkok
“Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!”
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” – Albert Einstein
October 25th 2019 is World Teachers Day.
There was no fanfare about this international celebration of teachers and teaching as a profession on World Teachers Day. In Australia, some teacher professional organizations had special celebrations and professional learning activities, but these did not attract media headlines.
Why was World Teachers Day so quiet? It could be that there are so many “World Days” for various professions and such days are only important to the members of those professions. It could be that teachers themselves are not good at promoting their work as they prefer to get on with their role as educator, where they gain their own powerful personal rewards from the feeling that comes with “awakening joy in creative expression and knowledge” [Einstein, above] in their students.
It really does not matter that there was no fanfare on World Teachers Day, as teachers are lucky people who in contributing to the education of others, receive internal satisfaction and positive affirmation of their value to their students, from families and school communities who truly appreciate their work. Such affirmation can come their way either while teaching a child or long after the child has left their care.
One of Austcham’s roles is providing ongoing professional learning for its members in relation to Economics, Leadership in the business world, Legal and Trade Matters, and related topics. It plays an important educational role for its members and others in the Business Community of Thailand and I wish to acknowledge their commitment to life – long learning.
As November is Austcham’s Education month, I would like to shine a light on the role of teachers, hence the title of this article – imagine the title representing a small child calling for the teacher’s attention.
So let us take a brief look at the work of teachers, ask a few questions and provide a few answers about their work.
Teachers or Educators?
Our parents, siblings, friends and all those in one’s life who teach us something or who help us to deeply understand something are both teachers and educators, a distinction which will be explored a little in this article.
For purposes of this discussion about teachers and educators, I will be referring to those who are members of the teaching profession and who work in a school based or home school educational setting.
This is not to devalue the crucial teaching and learning role of others such as those mentioned above, in a person’s education, but to enable a focus on those whose chosen career is to teach.
The Teachers in our Lives
First, I would like to you think back on your school life. Please count the number of teachers who taught you from the entry point to the exit point – say from Nursery or Kindergarten – or whatever point you entered school, up to Year 12 or Year 13 or other exit point?
Leave out further education, just see how many teachers from school days, you can count.
Or, if you are a parent with children in school right now can you count how many teachers they have had so far in their progress though school?
After reflecting on the total number ask yourself this:
Who would I rate as my best teachers?
Then think of what set these teachers apart from the others who taught you and why you chose them as your best teachers.
How many did you get and what proportion of the total number of teachers in you school life were these “best” teachers?
Teacher as Teacher or Teacher as Educator?
If we could gather this data on the numbers that were the best teachers in your experience of school, then look at the reasons why they are in the “best teacher” category, this would be an interesting exercise.
I am sure there would be a strong congruence of reasons among all participants gathering this data, as to why certain teachers stand out in their mind as their “best” teachers, among the many teachers that taught them in their years of school.
I am sure that among the reasons would be reasons like this:
1 “She knew me well”;
2“She took an interest in me as person not just as a member of her class”;
3“He helped me to realise I could succeed”;
4“He challenged me”
5“We could see how much she loved being a teacher”
6“I felt I could always answer questions without worrying about looking silly if I got the answer wrong”
Assuming my examples line up in a general way with yours, it is fair to ask, what then do the first set of reasons say about how you felt about your “best” teachers and what does this tell us about teachers anyway?
The first set of responses are relational – they show these teachers as really knowing their students as individuals, not just as members of “one of the girls in the Year 4 Maths Class I’ve got this year” rather than as “Jane who is in my Year 4 Maths Class”.
The responses above are teacher as educator responses.
The best teachers are those who know their students individually and beyond their classroom.
To use the example 2 above, Jane is the student, the teacher, Mary, will most certainly know that Jane is in the swimming team, learns piano on the weekend and is the middle child of three in her family. Mary will also know that Jane is good at Art and in her Year 4 Maths class she needs a bit more help than others.
Mary, the Maths teacher clearly shows a love of her work as a teacher – she made a deliberate choice to become a teacher when in fact she could have easily been accepted into other more financially lucrative professions.
Here is what a great teacher educator said in a Q and A session in response to the question:
Are there some specific strategies/approaches that you can suggest to help create the right Learning Environment to support effective differentiation?
I’ll share a few thoughts about what’s at the core of creating a supportive learning environment. The most basic steps a teacher should take are to convey to the students a desire to know about them and to work diligently through internal reflections and actions in the classroom to let students know that each is valued and trusted. This has to be honest on the teacher’s part, or it won’t work.
Taking a few minutes to tell students about yourself or asking them to share their stories, standing at the door to greet them as they arrive, seeing them get off bus in the morning, using classroom examples that are interesting and relevant for students, and asking for their perspectives in a class discussion are all examples of actions that feed a supportive learning environment.
While those can serve as good first steps, everything that happens in the classroom either contributes to a positive learning environment or erodes it. When the teacher gives kids tasks to do, the classroom needs to be a safe place for kids to take risks and make mistakes, and the materials must be appropriate in light of kids’ needs. If we ask kids to do something challenging and we don’t give them a support system, we
damage their trust in us. If we ask our students to believe we trust them but we’re wooden in our classroom discipline routines that also contradicts a sense of trust. So the second part of creating a supportive learning environment is to be reflective by asking: What did I do today that supported the learning environment, and what did I do that eroded it?
Connect with students, understand your own thoughts and rationales for doing things, and remember that everything you do in your classroom shapes the environment.
Carol Tomlinson Q and A See at file:///C:/Users/AISB/Downloads/Q&A%20with%20Carol%20Ann%20Tomlinson.html
This response describes a teacher as educator.
I am fairly sure that among your reasons for nominating your best teachers you would not have responses like:
1“She taught me to use correct grammar”
2“He showed me how to balance equations in algebra”
3“She always gave me good marks”
4 “She didn’t mind if we were late to school”
5 “He always talked about how he was tired and couldn’t wait for the holidays to come”
6 “I was always the first one he asked to answer questions”
What about this second set of sample responses?
These are teacher as teacher responses where the focus seems to be on what has to be taught rather than what can be learned.
Writing about what makes a great teacher an educator reminds me of what a senior Thai Professor of Engineering told parents and students in a special assembly in our school last year.
He said teachers should think of themselves as educators rather than as teachers; to illustrate this he told of three teachers who were selected as entrants in the Princess Sirindorn prize for outstanding educators in the ASEAN countries.
He told the story of three teachers, one in Timor L’Este; one in Malaysia and one in Southern Thailand.
I will use his example of the teacher in Timor L’Este, which is one of the poorest countries in the world – as the example here. The Arjarn told of reaching the isolated school after 6 hours of 4 wheel driving.
He met the teacher in the small school. The teacher was teaching the students astronomy, they had no telescope, no binoculars, but the teacher managed to make a simple device from scrap piping and other materials, for viewing the stars.
Our guest speaker distilled four key characteristics about teachers as educators from the three examples he gave:
All three teachers in different parts of South East Asia, had these similar characteristics:
1 They loved being a teacher
2 They loved their students and knew each of them very well
3 They would do anything they could possibly do for their students, using the resources that had at their disposal
4 They did not ask for more money
5 It was clear they would “go the extra mile” for their students
I am sure readers will know teachers who are educators – I am pleased and proud to say that I have worked in three countries [Australia, UK and Thailand], in the past and in the present, with many teachers who are educators.
Have a look at this Ted X talk by Timmy Sullivan, a student about to graduate from high school.
The Difference Between A Teacher And An Educator | Timmy Sullivan | TEDxYouth@BHS : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0MxylYP0yI
The world has changed have teachers changed?
The Learning Balance
The demands on education in the 21st century lead to an examination of the balance between the old and the new approaches to teaching and learning indicated below:
Powerful forces are at work, driving new ways of learning for life in the 21st century.
These forces are generally recognised as:
- The world of work is very different in the 21st Century compared to the previous century.
- 21st Century workers must be able to collaborate, think critically, solve problems and be technologically minded
- Digital technology is changing lifestyles
- Research on learning is influenced by Neuro Science and Metacognition
These forces are creating the need for new forms of learning and providing students with the tools, environments and guiding principles required to take their place in the contemporary society.
Role of the Teacher in 21st Century
The major change is the move from the teacher as provider of content to teacher as a guide and facilitator of learning.
In 2019, in most International Schools this is the way teachers conduct their classes.
I hope that this article helps readers to understand that in their own schooling, they would have had teachers who are educators even if that was in a different era of education and in the 21st century, among the teachers working with your sons and daughters there are some who are teachers and educators.
Greg is from Hobart Tasmania, Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Tasmania and holds an M Ed, BA and Dip Ed., from that university.
Greg has spent over 40 years in the teaching profession; at first as a high school teacher of English and Studies of Society. He had a long period in leadership positions as a high school Principal of several schools in Tasmania.
He was Executive Director of the Tasmanian Principals Institute, an Institute that provided Professional Learning for school leaders. In this role, he led many projects on behalf of the Australian Government working with the Royal Thai Ministry of Education related to school self- management and Leadership of Thai schools.
Prior to taking his current role at AISB, he was a lecturer and Director of the Bachelor of Teaching degree in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania.
Since 2010, Greg has been the Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok which has campuses in Sukhumvit Soi 20; Sukhumvit Soi 31 and also at Raminthra.
The school is a growing one, which currently has a combined student number of more than 500 and 53 expatriate teachers serving a community of 25 different nationalities.
The Curriculum offered is the Australian Curriculum the Cambridge International Curriculum
The school is on a pathway to providing international school education from Nursery to Year 12.
School Website: www.australian-isb.com